Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #ALT-2

GENRE: MG contemporary with paranormal elements

The green wicker bench: painted by Dad and me last summer.

The 100 year-old oak tree: home to robins, squirrels, and an occasional kid.

The Camp Store with green trim: where a camper can buy cheese puffs, a whoopee cushion, and worms all at the same time.

If I focus hard enough on each of these things, maybe I can calm the aching in my chest that feels like I’ve been underwater for too long.

Mom sits on the bench and pats the seat next to her.

“Come on, Sadie. We’ll wait here for Mrs. Z to bring the key to Dad’s house.”

I collapse onto the bench. The sign for the campground looms large in front of me, the little green turtle’s footprints tracing a path all around the words “Turtle Cove Campground” and “Owner: Peter Elliott.” My chest constricts a little tighter.

I wonder if Mom is the owner now.

I dig around in my bag, making extra noise to hide the sniffle that I can’t stop. My hand brushes against my vision journal, but I push that down further. I guess I should have told Dad about my visions of Becky last summer. I pull out my sketchbook and a pencil, instead.

I sketch the outline of the campground sign and the road leading into the Turtle Cove. I feel like I need to capture it all, because you never know when life is going to kick your legs out from under you.


  1. This is intriguing. I want to read more!

  2. Wow. As someone who lost their dad as a teenager, I get your MC. A lot. Not sure if he's dead or just divorced from this snippet (though I'm leaning toward dead), and maybe that's my critique here-- that much isn't clear. BUT: this is only ~250 words. It's okay if we don't have hard facts now.

    I do have to say, you set up a LOT of questions here that I think you can go ahead and answer pretty quickly, too. I'm curious to know what the overall hook of the story is and what mystery will be the biggest, but I'm not impatient enough to stop reading. I was a tad confused about the imagery of the turtle footprints on the camp sign, it made me have to re-read to understand what was important, but I did just wake up. :)

    Take all this with a grain of salt-- naturally, people looking for critique will find things to nit pick. Love it, I'd read on!

  3. I read a lot of middle grade books with my kids, and I think this is one they might keep reading. I really like how the Dad being dead isn't told straight out.

    I would, however, like to see the beginning reorganized. The first sentence really needs to grab the reader and the current 1st sentence doesn't do that. I don't care about a bench. Or a tree. Or a camp store. I do care about why the MC has to focus on these things though. I think starting with a reworked version of the 4th sentence (If I focus hard enough...) would be better to start with and then list the three items Sadie is focusing on, ending with the green wicker bench. That way, it leads right into Mom sitting on the bench.

  4. There a set up here and I really want to know what's going on. Although, I agree with Samantha about bringing the sentences together at the start. I'd like to care why the MC is focusing on these things too. A grounding, in a sense.

  5. Good intrigue and mystery to this piece. I do agree that the first three sentences don't pull me in and it's the fourth sentence that should come first. Overall, I'd be interested to read more.

  6. I like the details of setting in the first three sentences, emotional, I don't get pulled in until the 4th sentence. I would definitely keep reading.

  7. I thought it was well done, and I didn't have a problem with the opening images, but after reading Samantha's comment, I have to agree it would be a stronger opening.

  8. I loved the opening, but considering your audience - MG (versus YA or adult) - it might need to be spelled out a little more. Nice world-building and use of sensory images.

  9. I loved your opening and although i have nitpicks about it, it won't stop me from reading onwards. Like others have said, the first line doesn't work for me, it's nothing that I can about. I'd like to know more about the character first. But this is really good.

  10. I really like this, it's gentle somehow, but in a good way, it's nice reading something that isn't too wham bam right from the start for a change. But it's definitely intriguing, I want to know more. Good luck!

  11. Great job of showing instead of telling. There are plenty of story questions raised and I would read on (even though I'm much to old for MG!) just to find out about the visions she had of Becky and who Becky is.

    Great job.

  12. I like your opening. I don't know if this is the kind of book that I would read, but with writing like that, I'd certainly turn the page to see how things were going.

  13. Is the dad her mother's dad or the m.c.'s dad? The mom says Dad's house - making it sound like it's her dad. If It was your dad's house I would know it was the m.c's father.

    In the 250 words, The whole turtle thing is mentioned twice. Is that necessary.

    I like the way you write and would read on but think you need to tweak it a bit.

  14. I think this reads really well! I like it. Love the sentence about making extra noise to hide the sniffle. Perfect.
    I do agree with the suggestion above to re-order the beginning with the hooky sentence first. I think that would work great.
    Aside from that, a couple of tiny nitpicks:
    My inclination would be to change "My chest constricts a little tighter" to "My chest tightens."
    Secondly, the very last sentence sounds, to me, like an expression a middle-aged person would use, not a kid. Just my opinion of course.
    But overall, really well done IMO.

  15. I'm not a big fan of starting with setting. If you keep the beginning, consider paring down the number of things that are mentioned. I found myself getting impatient with teh beginning.

    The voice sounds a bit older than MG to me. The choice of expressions: "an occasional kid", "kick your legs out from under you."

    For example, maybe reword the camp store sentence like:

    "The Camp Store with green trim: where Mr. Smith always buys cheese puffs and I got that whoopee cushion that got me into trouble in school last year."

    The mystery about the father is very intriguiing.

    Keep writing and good luck with this :)

  16. I love the "been underwater too long" line and I feel for the character. I wasn't really drawn in by the opening statements, but Sadie is someone I'd like to get to know.

  17. Nix the list. Without an introduction to what the list means, it comes off as jarring and unrelated. I would say that something like this could work well in narrative nonfiction, but I wouldn't suggest opening a novel in that way.

    You might consider starting a bit lower, where she sees the campground sign. The simple paragraph that follows—I wonder if Mom is the owner now—is powerful because it doesn't state things explicitly or hedge around the fact.

    I would even say that this whole opening would be strengthened by taking out the sentences and phrases that tell too much instead of letting the characters' actions speak for them.

    Showing something, like with the ownership of the campground, and then reiterating it by telling readers exactly what it means, only in different words, is like beating them over the head with the campground sign. They got it the first time. Plus, your prose is so much more beautiful and nuanced when it's not stated and restated. Trust that they will see the meaning beneath the words. They will, and your story will be the better for it.